The Pleasure of Suffering

The genre of Country-Western (CW) music is revelatory of the hypochondriacal, drama-producing ego which, like a dog rolling in caca, loves the smell of whiney, twangy, self-pitying victimhood. It is the soundtrack to a soap opera with the ever predictable—“my horse went lame, my dog died and my woman up and left me (little wonder).” The false self has tyrannical control over this common American narrative and loves to give life to the drama that keeps the “pleasure” sensations energized.

As we shall see, the inability of Americans, especially “rednecks,” to distinguish pleasure from suffering results in a crazy mix of misery and mayhem. When it gets to the point of deliberately creating conflict to produce the reactions which are believed to be necessary for the inspiration to write songs about suffering, we have clearly confused music with madness.

In an interview, country singer Willie Nelson was asked the perfect question to prompt him to reveal a sad truth about the country western music false self.

Interviewer Andrew Goldman: “Between your three divorces and your tax troubles, you seem to have a life tailor-made for country music. Did you ever get yourself into scrapes just to have material?”[i]

Nelson: “I won’t mention any names, but I do know of one famous country singer, who is not with us today, whose manager would intentionally get him into trouble with girlfriends and wives just to make him get drunk and start writing songs about it. I thought that was pretty cold-blooded, but it seems to have worked.”[ii]

Well, that depends on your definition of “worked” Willie.

Billy Joe Shaver, a prolific CW songwriter knows the terrain of self-indulgent suffering. “‘If you feel down and you write that down, most of the time it is going to be a country song,’ says Shaver, who likes to call songwriting the cheapest psychiatrist there is.’”[iii]  Cheap, if your goal is to feed your neuroses that is!

“Many real-life misfortunes turn up in his songs—his mother’s abandoning him as a boy (‘Georgia on a Fast Train’), for example, or the time he shot a man in the face outside a bar in 2007 (‘Wacko From Waco’). He has composed songs with his son, the guitarist Eddy Shaver, who died of a heroin overdose in 2000, and he has written about the sort of tumultuous love that led him to divorce his first wife twice and marry her three times.”[iv]  See what we mean?

In Simple Reality we acknowledge the profound insight of the Buddhists (which applies in spades to the lifestyle of CW composers and performers), namely life is suffering. CW makes a business of suffering, it brings an odd sense of “pleasure” to listeners who are angry, hurt, or their life is falling apart in a hundred different ways. Oddly this fits in the affection/esteem/pleasure energy center of the false-self survival strategy. Oh my, how we hate to admit that. Where are we going to get the inspiration and the “juice” to write our pathetic CW songs if we can’t wallow in the muck of our broken hearts?

Don’t you fans of the twang and turmoil worry! The CW culture is alive and well with an assured future, short-term at least, which is more than we can say for humanity as a whole. To be contained in this common sub-text of the American story is to be conditioned to assiduously seek out a way to be perennially unhappy because, and here is the sad paradox: “to be miserable is to be happy.”

There is no more common role in the larger human drama than that of the victim. Like Hamlet, American cowboys and cowgirls love to overturn every rock in the landscape of their lives looking for something, anything, that will be ugly and repulsive and “out to get them.” Paranoia is alive and growing in the American soap opera entitled: “The Pleasure of Suffering.”

The Pleasure of Suffering

[i]     Goldman, Andrew. “The Silver-Headed Stranger.” The New York Times Magazine. December 16, 2012, page 12.

[ii]     Ibid.

[iii]    Wollan, Malia. “How to Write a Country Song.” The New York Times Magazine. June 14, 2015, page 27.

[iv]    Ibid.


Find a much more in-depth discussion in books by Roy Charles Henry.

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